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The first thing to consider when attempting to remove or change your hair colour is what colour do you want to achieve? Do you need it to be a very pale and even base for dyeing your hair a pastel colour or you just need to get rid of some unwanted red tones before dyeing your hair blue. Maybe you want to get some colour out of your hair before dyeing it a more natural shade. Whatever the reason, it’s important to choose a technique (or techniques) that will work for you.
Below is a list of methods, in no particular order, which you can use to fade or remove colour from your hair. The methods outlined work with varying effectiveness and cause differing amounts of damage. Always start with the least-damaging method, taking into consideration the effectiveness of the method on the type of dye you’ve used. You should assess the condition of your hair and do strand and sensitivity tests before proceeding with the colour removal techniques below.
When you don’t like your hair colour it’s tempting to reach straight for the bleach. Bleach is probably the most powerful colour removal method but in many cases it’s unnecessarily harsh.
So when should you use bleach? In my opinion, you should only opt for bleach after you’ve tried several other suitable colour removal methods. You probably know that bleaching your hair is damaging so unnecessary bleaching should be avoided. Bleaching already lightened hair risks severe damage so it should be your last resort.
Keep in mind that if you bleach out fresh colour you may encounter an unexpected result. For example, you’ve dyed your hair dark blue like Special Effects Blue Velvet but you decide it’s too dark and you bleach it. The result: bright pink hair. Bleach removes cool tones more quickly than warm so this can happen with a variety of colours. Green may go neon yellow when bleached. Purple can go pink. The best option in this case is to wash out as much colour as possible, try some less damaging methods to remove the colour and if all else fails and you can’t get to a colour you can dye over then use bleach.
Use: On stubborn colour when other methods have failed. Can remove permanent colour (but a colour reducer is a better option).
Damage Risk: Moderate – High (depending on your hair’s condition, developer used and processing time)
Effectiveness: Very effective at lightening natural hair and on semi-permanent dyes. Less effective on demi and permanent colour.
Additional Info: Lower volume peroxide in your bleach mix will make the lightening process slower and give you more control. Leaving strong bleach mixtures on your hair for long periods of time will cause the most damage.
This is a home remedy for fading colour that uses household ingredients. Vitamin C is an acid and as such, can cause irritation to the skin. I don’t recommend this method but as it’s a popular technique online I decided to cover it in this article. It works best on semi-permanent colours and can remove 1-2 levels of tone. It will not affect your natural colour but can cause dryness to your hair and irritate or even burn the skin.
You will need effervescent Vitamin C tablets and shampoo. Use 1 × 1,000mg tablet or 1g of Vitamin C powder. If using tablets crush them between two spoons and collect up the powder in a bowl. Get yourself ready for the treatment because you’ll need to use it immediately after mixing. I recommend you use an old towel to catch any colour run-off and a plastic cap.
Mix your powdered Vitamin C with a large squirt of cheap shampoo. Apply this to your hair immediately and work it through your hair ensuring every strand is covered. Cover your hair with a plastic cap to prevent it from dripping into your eyes.
Check your hair every 5 minutes and leave it on your hair for a maximum of 10 minutes before rinsing out. Follow with conditioner.
Vitamin C Treatment Summary
Use: On direct dyes (Manic Panic, Directions, Special Effects etc.) to remove tone.
Damage Risk: Mild. This process will have a drying effect your hair but this can be remedied with a deep conditioner.
Effectiveness: Depends on the colour but usually lightens direct dyes 1-2 shades.
Additional Info: I don’t recommend this method but it’s a popular home fading method. Vitamin C is acidic and therefore can damage hair/skin/eyes in high concentration.
Colour removers fall into two categories – colour strippers and colour reducers. Colour strippers are very similar to bleach but colour reducers are a great way of removing permanent colour from your hair with minimal damage. Colour reducers won’t touch your natural colour and only remove artificial pigment.
The instructions vary from one manufacturer to the next, but generally you can use a colour reducer 2-3 times to remove a permanent colour. It reverses the colouring process by shrinking the colour molecules in your hair, allowing them to be washed out. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter, both for safety and to ensure you get the most from the product. When the instructions say wash your hair for 20 minutes, do it!
Colour Remover Summary
Use: To remove permanent colour (any permanent colour that was mixed with peroxide).
Damage Risk: Mild-Moderate
Effectiveness: Very effective on permanent and demi permanent colours. Usually ineffective on unnatural colours although some dyes will change colour or fade.
Additional Info: Always do a strand test before you begin. Washing out the colour molecules is the key to achieving a good result. Don’t skimp on the shampooing stage! To check if the colour has been removed, apply 10 volume developer to a strand of hair. If it darkens you’ll need to repeat the process.
If you use a colour reducer on a direct semi-permanent the results will most likely be disappointing. Some shades will change (green to yellow) and others will remain untouched, so it’s not ideal for unnatural colours.
Sounds simple, but anti-dandruff shampoo works like a charm removing pastels and unwanted tones. If your blonde hair has gone too ashy or you still have a slight tint from your last colour hanging around, a few washes with an anti-dandruff shampoo will lighten it up significantly.
Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Summary
Use: Removes unwanted tones, pastel tints, green tones on blonde hair.
Damage Risk: None (although always follow with conditioner).
Effectiveness: Noticeable fading on pastel colours. Speeds up fading on darker, unnatural shades. Not noticeably effective on permanent colour.
Additional Info: Anti-Dandruff shampoo will leave your hair a bit dry if you don’t follow with conditioner.
A bleach bath is made up of bleach and shampoo. Simply mix up some bleach powder and 20 volume peroxide in a 1:1 ratio and add the same amount again in shampoo. Apply to your hair immediately and take all the precautions you would when dealing with bleach to protect your skin and clothing. Check your hair every 5 minutes, up to around 30 minutes before washing out the mixture.
A bleach bath will lighten up your existing colour but may also affect your natural colour.
Bleach Bath Summary
Use: To remove staining from your hair and to lift 1-2 levels before re-colouring.
Damage Risk: Moderate. This is still bleaching your hair, but the mixture is not as strong as regular bleach.
Effectiveness: Removes tone and lightens direct dyes by around 3 shades. Removes tone on permanent colour but results are less dramatic.
Additional Info: The same rules apply as with bleaching and you should ensure that your hair will not end up over-processed by doing a strand test first. Expect unnatural colours to change and lighten but not lift out completely unless already very washed out.
The old rule “colour does not lift colour” still applies but a high-lift blonde dye can be a handy addition to your dye stash for minor corrections. In some circumstances you can use a blonde dye to remove leftover tint from your hair, tone it or to even out your colour.
I recommend only doing this when your previous colour has almost washed out leaving a slightly tinted light blondish colour. This is not a suitable method to lighten dark hair.
High-lift Blonde Dye Summary
Use: To even out tone and remove slight staining from hair.
Damage Risk: Mild-moderate (depends on the processing and developer used).
Effectiveness: Removes slight staining and unwanted tone on almost-blonde hair. Not recommended for darker hair.
Additional Info: Only use on hair that’s already light blonde to remove unwanted tones and even the colour. Always do strand and sensitivity tests first.
If you need to fade your colour swimming in a chlorinated pool will fade semi-permanent colour, and with repeated exposure can fade permanent colour slightly. Swimming in the sea can also lighten your colour. The effects are subtle but if you’re a regular swimmer you will notice a difference.
Use: Fades semi-permanent colour
Damage Risk: Mild
Effectiveness: Can have a noticeable fading effect on direct dyes but is not particularly effective on demi-permanent and permanent colour.
Additional Info: Chlorine can damage your hair with prolonged exposure so always shampoo your hair after swimming. Blonde hair can turn greenish in pool water. This can be corrected with a chelating or “swimmer’s” shampoo, available online or from beauty supply shops.
While I don’t want to encourage anyone to expose themselves to sun-damage, most unnatural colours are not particularly photostable. If you can safely give your hair a little bit of sun exposure over a few days you will notice a difference in colour. Always take precautions to avoid sunburn to your skin (don’t forget your scalp).
Sun Exposure Summary
Use: Fades all types of hair colour eventually, but works best on vegetable-based colours
Damage Risk: Mild
Effectiveness: Works well on many unnatural coloured direct dyes, but has little effect on permanent colour.
Additional Info: Cooler shades like blue and purple are especially vulnerable to sunlight. Be sensible and always take precautions to protect your skin when exposed to the sun.
No, I don’t mean the party drug – I’m talking about the stuff your granny uses to relieve her aches and pains. Bath salts are a mixture of soluble minerals that are added to bath water and usually include Epsom salts and sodium bicarbonate. To use, just run a bath, sprinkle in some bath salts and soak your hair for as long as possible. Colour is drawn out of your hair, and if there’s a lot of pigment in your hair, you’ll see a pool of colour where you’ve been soaking!
Bath Salts Summary
Use: Fades semi-permanent colours
Damage Risk: Negligible
Effectiveness: Good for drawing out excess colour. Does not affect permanent colour.
Additional Info: Blue and purple shades seem most susceptible to this method.
To remove tone and light staining you can mix warm water with your usual bleach powder (don’t use peroxide) and apply it to the affected area. Wear gloves and take the same precautions you would when working with bleach (protective clothing, strand tests, sensitivity tests etc.). Rinse, shampoo and condition your hair after 10-15 minutes.
Bleach Powder & Water Summary
Use: To remove tone
Damage Risk: Mild-Moderate
Effectiveness: Good on unnatural colours. Not effective for lightening hair.
Additional Info: This method can lighten a direct dye 1-2 shades and is excellent for removing pastel colours, staining and unwanted tone. For best results use warm, deionised water.
Do you have a technique for fading your colour? Share it in the comments section below!